Thinking Strategically During Times of Uncertainty


Dec 14, 2020  | Thought Leadership

We are all expectantly awaiting the end of 2020 and the chaos created by the COVID pandemic and anxiously looking to a new year – even though 2021 is sure to be fraught with continuing uncertainty. An acronym that is often used to describe disruptive environments is VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. So how do we do our strategic planning in this new VUCA world – in this uncertain new normal?

Strategic Planning Amidst the “New Normal”

Two organizational qualities that are required in our strategic planning initiatives are resiliency and agility. Our “old normal” planning was built on a certain level of stability and known parameters that enabled us to construct strategic plans to guide our operations for a three to five-year period. The uncertainty of the “new normal” does not provide stability, so we must be resilient and willing to change. Resiliency may mean exploring new opportunities we have not previously considered, being willing to make tough decisions to sustain our organizations, and staying open to changing the way we have previously operated. Building a resilient path may be uncomfortable, but it just may be the key to long-term success.

Agility is becoming a popular new approach to strategic management. Strategic agility is designed for complex times and provides the capacity for an organization to identify and respond quickly to new opportunities. Less time is spent upfront in designing the plan and more time is devoted to iterating and adapting as time goes on. In most cases, the planning cycle is reduced to a three- or six-month period.

In Uncertain Times, Organizational Leaders Must Be Strategic Thinkers

With all the uncertainty that is surely facing us as we head toward 2021, we should not rush into implementing our current strategic plan and hope that everything is going to be the same as before – nor should we put our existing strategic plan on a shelf and ignore it. In the new reality, the organization leader must drive a strategic thinking process.

Strategic thinking is the process of looking at all the elements of an organization’s approach to doing business. Strategic thinking means taking the time to ask critical questions and explore the new opportunities that may be presented.

Shifting from the “Way it Was” to the “Way It Should Be”

Get out of the world of what was – or even what is – and move into a world of what can be – or even what you want it to be. Following are questions to guide you and your organization’s leadership in the strategic thinking process as you prepare for sustaining and growing your organization in 2021.

  1. What lessons did we learn from the COVID crisis? What worked for us and what did not work? What did we change? Did the changes work? If not, why not?
  1. If we have to operate in a more restrictive environment for several more years, what will we change within the organization? Should we make additional operational cuts? What is the impact on staff? How can we preserve our cash? Can we renegotiate lease agreements or long-term contracts?
  1. What can we deconstruct and reinvent in the way we operate? Our business model may be reduced or no longer relevant in the “new normal.” How can we do what we are currently doing better, faster, cheaper, or at an expanded level? What do we stop doing, start doing, or do differently?
  1. Can we redeploy our key skills to take advantage of new opportunities? Where can we take our core competencies to address a new or different market or deliver a complimentary service?
  1. What else do our clients/customers need that we can help them with? Can we recover and grow faster by offering more to existing clients instead of developing new services or programs? What other solutions can we offer to existing customers to increase revenue and build value for them? What else do our clients/customers want or need that we might not currently offer, but could? 
  1. Where should we reprioritize our focus? We have a lot of things we can do but are not sure what we should Many things you were doing, or may be doing now, will change in the new reality. Is your priority simply to survive? Are you doing well now and want to focus on longer term sustainability? Maybe you have created new business ideas or partnerships that provide an opportunity for growth and expansion? What should be the primary focus of your next 90-day plan? 
  1. How can we make it easier for others to do business with our organization in the new normal? Remember, organizations are here to serve. It is not about us; it is about the customer. Our customers’ needs have shifted and changed just as ours have. Focusing on what you can do to make life easier for others may make your challenges feel less ominous.

Your strategic thinking process is not designed to create a new long-term strategic plan. The objective is to critically look at your business environment and create an agile plan for the next 90 days. Then you can reevaluate and adapt to move forward another 90 days.

The SCP team of consultants is always ready to help organizations craft the perfect plan – for the next 90 days or well beyond. Contact us to learn how we can provide guidance as you prepare your organization to thrive in the new normal – whatever that may be!

BOB WHITMORE, MBA, D.ED.

Director of Nonprofit Programs

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